By Mike Masnick
We’ve written a few times about domain registrar/hosting company EasyDNS, which has been pretty vocal about how law enforcement and industry groups have recently started targeting registrars and hosting comapnies as “the soft underbelly” for censorship and coercive control. While we’ve covered this issue frequently as it relates to things like copyright, the real ground zero for this may be around online pharmacies. The online pharmacy space is a bit complicated — because there are really a few different kinds. There are US-based accredited/approved pharmacies, there are overseas accredited/approved online pharmacies… and then there are flat-out rogue pharmacies dealing in illegally obtained or counterfeit medicines. Obviously the last one is in a different category altogether from the first two, but US drug companies like to conflate legal foreign online pharmacies with the rogue ones. For years, there have been fights over the issue of “gray market” and “re-imported” drugs. The most common case involves Canadian pharmacies, which are perfectly legitimate, selling into the US, but at prices much cheaper than the drug companies would like (undercutting the prices charged by American pharmacies). Fake and dangerous drugs from rogue pharmacies are a real (if relatively small) problem. Legitimate foreign pharmacies selling into the US at cheaper prices are a made up problem by US drug companies. But those US drug companies like to take the “small” problem, and blame it on any non-US pharmacy in an attempt to block out the competition. This has been going on for years, but has ramped up recently.
We’ve written about how the big drug companies recently got control over the .pharmacy domain, and the indications are that they’re planning to use it to block out legitimate foreign pharmacies by arguing that only online pharmacies with a .pharmacy domain are “legit” and then banning legitimate foreign pharmacies from getting the domain. Earlier this year, we also wrote about the lobbying group, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, telling registrars that if they complain about a site, it must be taken down.
Mixed in with all of this is the somewhat questionable setup of an operation called “LegitScript,” which is an organization that claims to verify which pharmacies are legit. The history of “LegitScript” is extremely sketchy, involving a former White House official who specifically worked to block legitimate Canadian pharmacies from sending drugs to the US, and who then immediately went off to form LegitScript as a competitor to PharmacyChecker — a similar service that verifies online pharmacies including Canadian pharmacies. Oh, and the “immediately” in the last sentence may be inaccurate as the guy, John Horton, appears to have registered the domain for LegitScript while he was still a federal government employee… Either way, the US pharma industry has worked hard to make LegitScript the standard while pushing back on PharmacyChecker.
Back to EasyDNS: the company has been fighting off these demands to shut down sites repeatedly, saying that it will only do so with a court order. After getting into a fight with the US’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over demands to take down a bunch of domains, EasyDNS finally agreed to take down a site, after being provided with evidence that it was truly a rogue pharmacy, and someone had died from taking drugs ordered from that site. Because of this EasyDNS has adjusted its policy, saying that if you are selling drugs, you have to prove to EasyDNS that you have a license to do so, or be approved by either LegitScript or PharmacyChecker (meaning that it will allow legitimate foreign pharmacies to exist). EasyDNS is still standing up to bogus requests (including new ones from the City of London Police) to take down websites, but is being more proactive when an online pharmacy has no signs of being legitimate.
While some people complained about EasyDNS’s new police, the company’s CEO Mark Jeftovic explained it as follows (after referencing the latest copyright takedown demand from the City of London Police):
So in one case we have people allegedly pirating Honey Boo Boo reruns and on the other we have people dying. We don’t know where exactly, but the line goes somewhere in between there.
We have always done summary takedowns on net abuse issues, spam, botnets, malware etc. It seems reasonable that a threat to public health or safety that has been credibly vetted fits in the same bucket.
As a private company we feel within our rights to set limits and boundaries on what kinds of business risk we are willing to take on and under what circumstances. Would we tell the US State Department to go to hell if they wanted us to take down ZeroHedge? Absolutely. Do we want to risk criminally indicted by the FDA because of unregulated drug imports? Not so much.
He also notes, as we did, how Fedex was recently indicted over deliveries from questionable online pharmacies, and notes that it’s only a matter of time until criminal charges are filed against a registrar or hosting company as well.
These are not easy decisions for anyone — though, I have to imagine that truly “rogue” pharmacies are increasingly moving to the darknet and underground markets anyway. However, while some may disagree, there does seem to be a reasonable argument for why a registrar like EasyDNS decides it really doesn’t want to be involved with clearly rogue pharmacies.